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How Civilization 7 could reinvigorate the ancient series

As the last major update for Civilization 6’s New Frontiers season lands this week, I’m reminded of the fact that it’s the Civ game I’ve played the least, by far, since I fell in love with the series through Civ 3 a full 20 years ago. And I’m not alone in feeling a little bit let down by it. It seems like Civilization has stagnated in a genre that keeps evolving and thriving in the hands of series like Europa Universalis and Total War. And with Amplitude’s Humankind on the horizon, a potential Civilization 7 has a big, direct competitor right in its backyard.

I may be making the situation sound gloomier than it probably is. Civ 6’s DLC has been well received, and the series maintains a large, dedicated fanbase. Firaxis could probably keep doing what it’s dsoing and skate along for another decade or more. But as our standards for historical strategy games change, and new devs and players come onto the scene to mix things up, I think this would be a major missed opportunity. So here’s how Firaxis can keep Civ relevant. 

Let me set my own goals

Civ 5 and 6 represent a departure from their forebears by evoking neatly-packaged board games focused on bespoke win conditions that everyone is racing toward. This might be good for competitive players, but it takes some of the feeling of “roleplaying history” out of the series. It no longer feels like I have the freedom to build whatever kind of society I want. Everything from the dawn of my civilization to the very end is in pursuit of launching a rocket, or conquering the world, or making everyone buy my blue jeans. The emphasis on the destination distracts from the journey.

This is a big part of why I ultimately drifted away from Civ and toward games like Crusader Kings. I like to set my own goals. I like to decide what I think a successful civilization looks like, rather than picking from a list of possibilities the developers provided. I like to be able to change my mind about the kind of society I’m building if it makes sense at a certain point. I don’t like the idea that placing a district in the wrong tile in the classical era might lead to me being horribly behind in science or religion many eras later.